Lyle had never thought of himself as a collected person, in a privation, especially after the divorce. His other coworkers thought of him as, you know, Lyle. The IT guy at the dirty on the outside, pristine on the inside office building the 200 or so other employees worked at. Most of them whisking away at tiny cubicles, little post-it notes, cat stickers and desk-sized calendars with crudely drawn animals sat around their workspaces as their brains drowned in thoughts along the lines of “I wish I were anywhere else but here right now.”
Lyle himself, however, felt like he never wanted to leave work. He tried to distract himself with off to the side avocations and sessions of introspection to try and figure out why he felt like a flaming barrel of debris on the inside. A burning feeling deep in his stomach. It made the blue drain from his eyes.
He felt like there was nothing left of him, having epiphanies that eventually ended up with another unfinished art project sitting in his basement, or a punched hole in the drywall near the trapdoor to the attic. Even nights of near endless reading through Wikipedia articles about Isaac Newton and old 80s TV shows didn’t help. They were all provisional, one after the other hoping to be replaced by something genuinely worthwhile.
His other coworkers seemed to keep him company in the break room, although them chatting away about the new Game of Thrones episode or a new casserole recipe Sharon found online never truly caught his interest. He looked as if he was in a state of melancholy. Nobody else seemed to notice, nor care. But as the days went on, he started to see and make contact with a face he hadn’t seen around in the room before, but became more familiar with.
Rick, he said his name was, the customer service advisor. One of the only people at the building that got their own office, besides him. He didn’t even know there were customer service hotlines or anything like that at Parling Inc. The feeling of being bereft of joy unnoticeably left him the more often they spoke.
A frozen heart, melting under the flame of a barbeque lighter. He enjoyed their water cooler conversations, jokes and jabs at the others in the office neither of them were fond of. Making fun of people is horrible, he thought, but the way he forms his insults is hilarious. Does Sharon really have that many placebo pill prescriptions? Was Mordecai really the one that caused that incident with the macaroni salad in high school? How did he know any of these things? Lyle never even saw him in any of his days at St. Generous High, or around town. But, he was his friend, he had a look in his eyes, god those lime green eyes, that made him feel safe.
He finally had a friend to talk to. The duo would often be seen clocking out of the building together, going to the local diner, cracking jokes and chugging coffee until their spines felt like they would leap out of their backs like snakes in a can. Dale would often have to kick them both out around midnight, the two’s hands and teeth jittering as they cackled while trying to not sprint home. Caffeine sure is something. It made Lyle think of being back in highschool, running around the streets late at night. This time, he had someone else to make and chortle at tasteless jokes with. It was a kind of solace Lyle thought was only felt by cartoon characters when they break out into a musical number.
They both thought dares and bets were the best thing since sliced bread. Although they were both in their 30s, they acted like 14 year olds. It’s the 80s again, spin the bottle, truth or dare, the whole shebang. The dares started off crude, but simple enough. ‘How many coins can you stand on their sides? 5 bucks if you can stack them.’ ‘How many Oreos do you think you can eat without throwing up?’ ‘What do you think will happen if you call your ex and just leave the phone on speaker?’ He felt 15 again, sitting around his mobile device and chortling. That childish wonder of not realizing taxes are a thing and you don’t need a job is a feeling he’ll never get back. They usually both ended up on their backs, giggling until their torsos ached. It was a renaissance of joy.
But, the more they hung around each other, the more sinister Rick’s dares got. Shoving people into the street, cutting off other cars on the highway. One was eating a dish with so much nutmeg in it Lyle had to go to the hospital. Rick ate the entire thing and was completely fine.
The last one he could remember was the highway, again. It seemed to go on for miles, nothing but growing hills, trees, fence posts and road in front of them. They sat in silence for near hours, the radio without signal with how far out they were from electricity poles and signal towers. Keep driving, Rick said. Lyle thought they left the parking lot a few minutes ago.
“Hey, Lyle. I want you to know something.”
Lyle turned his head to make eye contact and, before he could register what was happening, Rick vanished. Blinked out of existence. Almost like he was vacuumed up from outside the window into the void. He didn’t have his seatbelt on. Lyle thought nothing of this, and turned back to the wheel. He didn’t have enough time to register the sharp curve signs either, and the last thing he remembered was gravity shifting around him, and his face a centimeter away from the windshield. Only fortuitous.
The crash site was a mess. Bits of metal, glass, black rubber and reddish-pink ribbons were lightly strewn about the semicircle dent in the road fence. Those bits trailing to the Cadillac not too far off in the distance, a smoldering ball of shiny, thin sheets of metal and tire covers. The road sign was bent at an obtuse angle.
Lyle himself, was unrecognizable. Any and all of the papers and registration in the glovebox were shredded to pieces. Law enforcement, however, found one piece of identification.
An ID card, someone familiar. Short, strawberry blond haircut, sharp green eyes.